Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Bradford, McKean County
Hall of Fame pitcher "Rube" Waddell played for the Athletics from 1902 to 1907.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
George Waddell, well known as Rube, was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania in 1876. He had a very successful career as a baseball player, although he was traded and sold many times, playing for several different teams. He had a unique personality that got him into a lot of trouble, but he could always count on playing ball. He was known for chasing fire trucks, fishing, or playing with children. Waddell played baseball until his health prevented him from doing so, and he died in 1914 in San Antonio, Texas.
George "Rube" Edward Waddell, was born on October 13, 1876, in the small farming town of Bradford, Pennsylvania. Waddell was born to his father, John Waddell, and his mother Mary Ford Waddell who had four other children. His father John worked for the oil industry in Bradford, and moving to find better work, lead the Waddell family to Prospect, Pennsylvania, where they lived most of the rest of their lives. Waddell's father John made a comfortable living for his wife and all of his children. As a child, Waddell did well in school, but he hardly ever attended. His sister was quoted as saying, "He often missed school, but I could always find him playing ball, fishing, or following a fire engine." Fire trucks were one of Waddell's obsessions, for he would hear sirens and run after the trucks all the way to the fire to help put it out. As a child, he learned to throw by throwing rocks at crows. He did not have much baseball training throughout his life, but he had a strong, muscular body from farming, mining, and drilling.
Once the Waddell family moved to Prospect, Waddell looked around for places to play baseball. He could not find many people his age to play baseball with because they all said that he made their hand hurt when he would throw to them. In 1895, at the age of 19, Waddell earned a spot as the pitcher on the Butler baseball team, which was close to his home in Prospect. Although Waddell was a very talented player, he was not dedicated to the game, always showing up late or playing with children during games. Sometimes, he would even leave in the middle of games to go fishing. In 1896, Waddell was offered a job playing for a team in Franklin, Pennsylvania. This team was not very successful, so Waddell returned to Prospect to work on the farm.
The first story about Waddell's nickname was from the time when he started playing on the Franklin team. The catcher on the team had gone behind the plate and yelled, "Alright Rube, lets see what you've got!" "Rube" was a popular nickname back in this time meaning "farmboy," "bumpkin," or "hick." It is said that this nickname stuck with him since that day.
In April 1897, Waddell received an offer to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates under manager Patsy Donovan. He was invited to eat breakfast with Donovan before practice and was released from the team before practice even began, although no one is sure what happened. He returned to Butler to find that he had another offer, but this time it was from a college. They were not interested in Waddell's academic skills; they just wanted him to play baseball. The school was called Volant College, located close to Butler. The school offered to pay him one dollar per game and also to supply him with free chewing tobacco. The best part of the deal was that Volant did not require him to go to class. During the season he played for Volant, they only lost one game and once nearby schools found out about him, they called and cancelled their games with Volant. Although he played well, his college career ended after just one season and he once again moved back to Butler.
In the summer of 1897, Waddell started playing for a club team in Evans City where he got recognized by many other teams. He was then offered to play for an amateur team in Homestead, Pennsylvania. After Waddell was done playing for this team, he signed to play with the Louisville Colonels, then a National League team. He debuted in the major league with the Colonels on September 8, 1897 and played very well with them from September through November, but their manager, Fred Clarke, could not handle and did not approve of Rube's actions and attitude. One day when Clarke was so fed up with Rube's drinking habits, he released him and traded him to Detroit. The Detroit Tigers signed Rube for the spring season in 1898. Rube continued to excel, but the Tigers were not a very successful team altogether. Once again, Rube got himself into trouble but this time for playing baseball outside of the Tigers team, whether it was with other non-professional teams or with little kids in their sandlots. Soon, Rube left Detroit and went to Chatham, Ontario to play for a short while. In August, he returned back to Butler.
In the next thirteen years, Waddell was traded ten more times from team to team. In September of 1898, he was traded back to the Louisville Colonels and the next year in 1899, was loaned to Columbus Grand Rapids. In the same year, he once again returned back to the Louisville Colonels where he stayed for a while before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here, Rube was leading the National League in strikeouts and earned run average but in July of 1900, Rube was borrowed from Pittsburgh to go to Milwaukee by manager Connie Mack, where he also played very well. Despite his success, one month later, he returned to playing with the Pirates. In May of 1901, he was sold to the Chicago Athletics (now the Cubs) for "good money." Once again, because of his behavior, whether it was drinking or just not showing up, Waddell was suspended for the last month of the season.
In June of 1902, Waddell went to the Philadelphia Athletics, where he played once again for Connie Mack. This time is said to be the start of his glory years. During this first season with the Athletics, Waddell had 24 wins and 210 strikeouts, even when he did not start pitching for the team until the end of June; this was a league-high record. He was with the Athletics for six years, and while he played for them, he led the American League in strikeouts each season and on average, won 21 games per year. Waddell led the American league in strikeouts for six years straight between 1902 and 1908, and there was only one season where he did not have over 200 strikeouts. His 1905 season with the Athletics was his best season in which he had 26 wins, 287 strikeouts, and an earned run average of 1.48. This was his only season where he would have had the chance to play in the World Series, but unfortunately, he injured his shoulder while rough housing with a teammate and had to sit out for the rest of the season.
When his time ended with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908, he was sold to the St. Louis Browns where he spent the rest of his baseball career. During his first season with the Browns, he set and American League record for that time of 16 strikeouts in one game. After 1908, Waddell's talent for pitching slowly declined and in 1910, he was released from the Browns. After his release, he pitched in the minor leagues for several teams including those in Newark, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota, and Minneapolis.
In 1912, Waddell started showing the effects of tuberculosis, which he contracted in the spring while staying in Kentucky with his coach for the Minneapolis minor league team. A river had flooded and Rube stood in the icy waters for more than four hours trying to pile sandbags on the embankments. His health declined after this and he ended up in a sanatorium in San Antonio, Texas. It was here that on April 1, 1914 Rube Waddell died at the age of 37. He is buried in Mission Burial Park in San Antonio, Texas. In 1946, Waddell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee because of his great contributions to baseball.
Rube Waddell was a character unlike any other, being such a great athlete, but not being very dedicated. He was transferred and traded many times throughout his career, some of the times because of his behavior. He had a great love for fighting fires and fishing. During an interview, Connie Mack recalled the time when he told Waddell that if he would pitch a double header, Mack would give him three days off to go fishing instead of going to the next game. Not surprisingly, he accepted. It is also recalled that he would often wear a red shirt under his jersey during games just in case there was a fire to fight. Many of Waddell's teammates did not approve of the way he acted. He would hold up games in which he was supposed to pitch because he was playing with children. One teammate, Ossie Schreckengost, who was Rubes catcher and who always had to sleep with him on road trips, asked to have part of Rube's contract say that he could not eat animal crackers in bed since he always left crumbs in the sheets. His behavior bothered some of his teammates so much that in 1908, several players threatened not to return to the team unless Mack got rid of Waddell.
Although many saw all of Waddell's bad qualities, there were some that saw the good side of him. Connie Mack, who coached Rube for six years on the Athletics, said, "He had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw." Connie Mack's daughter, Ruth Mack Clark, said "Dad always had a gleam in his eye when he told stories about Rube Waddell. Dad really loved the Rube." Harry Davis, the first baseman on the Athletics, who played with him said, "Too much was made of his eccentricities, and too little of his other nature. Waddell had a kind of lovable disposition, which showed itself in many ways. If a friend in need applied to him for assistance, he was never turned away."
In his social life, Waddell was married and divorced three times. He never liked to stay in the same place, and often found odd jobs such as working at the bar or the fire station to keep busy. He was a character, but many said he saved baseball in the years he was playing. "He may have failed us at times, but to him, I and other owners of the Athletics ball club, owe much," said Connie Mack.